The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla and FARC dissidents were behind the attacks that resulted in widespread destruction to Bogotá’s mass transportation system and more than 50 community police command posts on September 9. According to Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the illegal armed groups had infiltrated the protests as part of a coordinated strategy to extend the armed conflict to the Colombian capital, by creating “collectives” of no more than five members.
When Holmes Trujillo made his declaration on the morning after the rioters smashed and torched one of the CAIs where 43-year old lawyer Javier Ordoñez died after being tased and beaten by two members of the Metropolitan police, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López blamed the police for indiscriminate use of force which resulted in 10 dead and more than 80 injured.
As candlelight vigils to honor of the victims of the protests replaced the torching of articulated buses and extreme vandalism, the relationship between the national government and district deteriorated to the extent that during a radio interview, President Iván Duque responded “let’s leave it at that,” when asked about the Mayor’s refutal of the presence of urban militias in the anti-police marches. Duque’s calculated remark came after López posted on Twitter: “They have not shown a single piece of evidence, and go on to affirm that this was a takeover by ELN. If they knew, why didn’t they prevent it? Why didn’t they communicate it?”. The Mayor then went on to accuse the government of pulling the evidence “out of the hat […] to distract attention. That is not serious with anyone, not with democracy nor the victims.”
Last Wednesday, however, the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed the arrest of four suspects, who recruited university students to an urban militia and who orchestrated attacks on November 21, during the start of the National Strike. The evidence that intelligence officials gathered over 10 months include a four-minute cellphone conversation between “Erika” (identified as Erika Lorena Flores) and Wilson Reinel Moreno, alias “Martín,” commander of FARC’s dissident Manuel Marulanda front. In the transcript, Martín and Erika plan attacks against TransMilenio stations in the south of Bogotá. The other two suspects, aliases “Rosita” and “Justo,” were in charge of starting so-called solidarity unions, that are linked to organized acts of vandalism.
Computers seized in police raids also reveal the involvement of FARC dissident, alias “Rodrigo Cadete,” in the November riots. Given the accusations between the two most important politicians in the country – President Duque and Mayor López – over who was to blame for the violence that has characterized recent protests, in a video that was released by the Western War Front of the ELN, commander Ómar Gómez, alias “Uriel” confirmed that their urban militias participated in the attacks against the CAIs in order to “destroy centers of torture and death.” Gómez went on to claim that ELN has the support of student comrades, teachers, unions, health sector workers, transporters and neighborhood residents “because we are a people, not only in Bogotá.”